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Review: ‘Impetigore’ (2020) – Best Indonesian Haunted Curse Body Horror Movie of 2020

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Review: 'Impetigore' (2020) - Best Indonesian Haunted Curse Body Horror Movie of 2020

You know that thing chefs do, where they touch their pointer finger to their thumb, kiss it and say “Belissimoduccio,” or whatever? That is exactly how I feel about this movie. Better ingredients. Better pizza. Impetigore. What a beautiful blend of everything I never knew I wanted from this picture out of Indonesia. I know embarrassingly little about Indonesia, and although this movie probably didn’t set out to educate, I feel I’ve learned about how similar we are in terms of fear. That’s the great connector. Fear. Laughter too, maybe, but fear translates better. If these actors were saying the funniest joke ever, and those subtitles were gone, I wouldn’t know when to laugh. But even if I turn off the subtitles during Impetigore, there are a lot of still-scary moments sitting with me the morning after I watched it. It re-affirmed to me that horror is both my favorite genre, and a genre full of vital artistry that connects people all over the world.

Slam dunk opening sequence here, folks. Impetigore borrows from the Scream school of thought, wherein the title credits are preceded by a perfect little short film. Here, instead of Drew Barrymore it’s Tara Basro, a very impressive actress who will make you feel every scare with her. At the beginning of our story, Basro’s Maya is a toll collector on an infrequently-traveled bridge. Things get so boring that she’s always talking over radio to Dini, her friend who’s stationed at a different toll. Things are boring here for Maya. So boring that she notices the same car when it comes through a third, a fourth time in a day. The driver’s been giving her weird looks too. But tonight, things are different. He parks the car. He gets out, and slowly stalks his way towards Tara’s tollbooth. She’s panicking, because she and Dini can’t reach anyone in time. Then the man starts banging on the tollbooth and yelling until Maya opens the little window. It’s hair-raising and he seems to be out of his mind, referring to her by some other name. Then a machete gets involved, and everything escalates in a most frightening way until, boom, credits.

Fast forward a few days. Maya and Dini are looking back on that crazy night. What’s crazier is what Maya has learned since then. That other name? The one the machete-wielding bad guy called her? That’s her real name. It seems Maya was adopted by an aunt earlier in life after her parents fled the small village where Maya was born. It turns out she is also the heiress to a sizable house and piece of land in that very same small village. And, it turns out, if there’s one thing that May and Dini do not have, it’s money.

Impetigore Movie Still

This detail right here is something that connects Impetigore with a lot of other great horror stories. It’s grounded in financial struggle. Same reason the Torrances have to move into the Overlook. Same reason the Freeling family could only afford a house on top of an Indian burial ground. Presumably the same reason those kids didn’t simply fly to Texas, avoiding chainsaws altogether. Impetigore, like these other movies, gives us real stakes by introducing this despair as Maya and Dini’s money problems drive the events. This makes for very relatable characters, too. While we may not all be heiresses to a big chunk of land in an Indonesian village, we do mostly all know what it’s like to have money worries.

While what the characters’ wants are universal, the dressing on it all is very beautifully specific. Indonesia, it turns out, has a vast and rich history of shadow puppetry, or Wang Kulit. If you’ve seen some of the short shadow teasers for Nia Dacosta’s upcoming Candyman, you’ll be able to envision the intricate design and movement of these puppets. They’re incredible. And there’s a lot to be said about the way this movie links the present to the past, as Maya tries to escape a history that doesn’t even seem like hers.

The mythology within Impetigore feels so vibrant and alive. And these ancient traditions merge so wonderfully with what’s happening in Maya’s life. It’s all fascinating right through the ending too. No lull in the action in this well-paced flick. The opening sequence gives Impetigore such momentum, and the movie just rides it out remarkably well. It would’ve been easy to lose footing in the second act, as I’m sure a lesser filmmaker would have. But here, Joko Anwar nails it.

Impetigore Movie Still 2

Impetigore shares a lot in common with Hereditary, and not just in their gorgeous cinematography. The two movies are, ultimately, about whether we can escape a family legacy, and the genetics that plague our every day. How much are we our own selves? And how much are we a part of a family union that will follow us forever? In both movies, something awful is winding its way down a family tree, and in both movies, it’s clear that we can’t escape these fates by simply staying away from family.

I really cannot recommend this movie enough. Impetigore is available on Shudder, and if you have any fun thoughts or theories, please reach out to me on twitter @BillReick!

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